UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Gaze selection in the real world : finding evidence for a preferential selection of eyes Birmingham, Elina


We have a strong intuition that people's eyes are unique, socially informative stimuli. As such, it is reasonable to propose that humans have developed a fundamental tendency to preferentially attend to eyes in the environment. The empirical evidence to support this intuition is, however, remarkably thin. Over the course of eight chapters, the present thesis considers the area of social attention, and what special role (if any) the selection of eyes has in it. Chapters 2 and 3 demonstrate that when observers are shown complex natural scenes, they look at the eyes more frequently than any other region. This selection preference is enhanced when the social content and activity in the scene is high, and when the task is to report on the attentional states in the scene. Chapters 4 and 5 establish that the bias to select eyes extends to a variety of tasks, suggesting that it may be fundamental to human social attention. In addition, Chapter 5 shows that observers who are told that they will have to remember the scenes look more often at the eyes than observers who are unaware of the forthcoming memory test; moreover this difference between groups persists to scene recognition. Chapter 6 examines whether the preference for eyes can be explained by visual saliency. It cannot. Chapter 7 compares the selection of eyes to another socially communicative cue, the arrow. The results shed light on a recent controversy in the social attention field, and indicate again that there is a fundamental bias to select the eyes. Collectively the data suggest that for typically developing adults, eyes are rich, socially communicative stimuli that are preferentially attended to relative to other stimuli in the environment.

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